Cambodian courts drop case into environmental activist’s murder
Chut Wutty – protector of Cambodian rainforests and vocal critic of corruption in that country’s land disputes – was shot dead under suspicious circumstances in one of a series of recent attacks against activists, journalists and protesters. Environmentalists and human rights groups say the incident is yet another act showing how the powerful can get away with whatever they like through access to political interference in the courts.
Chut Wutty was, according to a report at the time of his death, a soldier for Nature and Humanity, who inspired millions of Cambodians, and others around the world. He was on the frontline of a dirty war, in which Cambodia’s forests are being liquidated for unthinkable profits that accrue to a powerful few, while indigenous and local communities are left as voiceless bystanders, dispossessed from the forests that have sustained them for centuries.
Wutty was investigating alleged illegal logging when he was shot and killed, along with a military police officer. Police blamed themselves for the shooting, but claimed he committed suicide following the incident. Later, the police changed their story next saying that he was accidentally shot by a security guard. The case was dropped since there was no live suspect.
According to Voice of America, Ou Virak – head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights – has said that the court’s failure to pursue the case “demonstrates political interference”.
“Many of the officials who benefit from illegal trade, illegal logging, and illegal trade of timbers, were not happy with him,” Ou Virak noted. “And, because of that, I don’t think there’s any desire by the government and people in power to investigate.”
Last September, the body of a journalist investigating illegal logging connections to the Cambodian military was found in the trunk of a card at least three other incidents involving security forces opening fire on unarmed labor and land protesters have occurred this year with a 14-year-old girl being shot dead during a violent land eviction in May.
Surya Subedi – the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia – has suggested that freedom of expression is deteriorating.
“And, in the run up to the elections I have asked the government to relax the situation and I have recommended that there should be a free and open political environment to hold free and fair elections,” said Subedi. “And, what I have seen, the recent couple of incidents, demonstrate that things are not moving in the right direction.” In a July report, Subedi wrote that human rights defenders now feared for their lives and increased intolerance by authorities would likely affect political space for opposition parties.
Source: Mongabay, New mandala (Asia Pacific) and Voice of America